The establishment of a specialised fraud and corruption prevention team is a concrete step to match the government’s rhetoric, the law firm said.
In a statement sent to Australasian Lawyer, Allen & Overy’s Jason Gray noted that Transparency International and the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development have long criticised Australia’s lack of enforcement on foreign bribery.
Gray, counsel and Australian anti-bribery practice lead for the law firm, also noted that the Government has talked a tough game on foreign bribery.
“The rhetoric is now being matched with concrete investment and the first tangible sign of increased investigative tools and resources,” he said.
“For Australian companies operating in industries and jurisdictions with a high risk for bribery and corruption, it is an opportune time to get ahead of the regulatory curve.”
Justice Minister Michael Keenan launched the Perth-based team on 5 September and confirmed that similar teams will be launched in Melbourne and Sydney to investigate foreign bribery.
The teams will be funded by the $15m additional funding from the government to the Australian Federal Police announced in April to tackle complex fraud, foreign bribery and corruption cases.
“The Government takes a zero tolerance approach to corruption in all its forms, and Australia is consistently ranked as one of the least corrupt countries in the world,” Keenan said at the launch of the specialist team in Perth.
“The Coalition is committed to ensuring though that we do not become complacent and that this zero tolerance approach to corruption continues,” he said.
The Perth-based team is made up of six officers who will form a multi-disciplinarian investigations team targeting foreign bribery, corruption and other serious financial crimes, the Justice Minister announced.
With the Government’s intensified focus on foreign bribery, Allen & Overy said that Australian companies face greater scrutiny.
“The introduction of specialist teams is the most significant indication to date that Australian companies will face increased scrutiny when it comes to their operations overseas,” Gray said.
“It’s likely the first team in Perth will focus on cases involving the mining and resources sector, particularly mid-tier companies with operations in developing areas of Asia and Africa. These are the most “at-risk” businesses that may not have previously invested as heavily in risk-based anti-bribery and corruption compliance programs designed to prevent and detect potential violations of law,” he said.
According to the London-headquartered firm, the launch of the new teams is only the latest in a trend toward greater enforcement.
The Australian Senate announced an inquiry into foreign bribery last year to assess and improve foreign bribery laws.
In March 2016, the Attorney-General’s Department released a public consultation paper on the introduction of Deferred Prosecution Agreements (“DPAs”) for serious corporate crimes, said the law firm. DPAs involve a prosecutor agreeing not to prosecute a company in exchange for compliance with certain conditions.
It also noted that the Government had expanded its legislative toolkit for prosecuting foreign bribery by introducing new false accounting offences in March this year.